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Cain rejects latest allegations as debate nears

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Washington (CNN) -- Herman Cain is scheduled to take part in a Republican presidential debate in Michigan on Wednesday, a day after he vehemently denied all sexual harassment allegations against him.

Cain said Tuesday he has no memory of the first accuser to publicly describe misconduct by the GOP presidential hopeful, and he rejected the growing number of allegations as a politically motivated attempt to discredit his front-running campaign.

"They simply didn't happen. They simply did not happen," Cain insisted of the alleged incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior, and at least one alleged incident of sexual groping, when he was head of the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999.

On Wednesday, the lawyer for one of the accusers told CNN that a possible joint news conference by all the women who have claimed sexual misbehavior by Cain would "lay out all the facts" about what happened.

Joel Bennett, who represents former association employee Karen Kraushaar, said that his client and Sharon Bialek -- the only accuser to publicly detail her complaint against Cain -- have agreed to participate in the as-yet unscheduled news conference.

"There is safety in numbers," Kraushaar told CNN on Tuesday night. "It is important that it happen in one conference."

At a news conference Tuesday to respond to the latest accusation made by Bialek, a Chicago woman who once worked at the restaurant group, Cain described her as a "troubled" woman put up to making false allegations by forces trying to derail his presidential bid.

"As far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race? Ain't going to happen," Cain said.Cain said the "Democrat machine" could be behind the allegations but added that he didn't know for sure. He also said he expects further attempts to smear his name and reputation and vowed that he would not be deterred.

It is unclear how the controversy will affect the debate, scheduled to be held at Oakland University Wednesday night. The topic of the debate is supposed to be the economy, but lately all the headlines about Cain have been about the sexual harassment allegations.

Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said he hopes the subject matter can change.

"I hope for Republicans' sake we can get back to talking about the economy, about jobs, deficit, debt, taxes," Barbour said.

The sexual harassment accusations have dominated Cain's campaign since they were first reported October 30 by Politico.

Kraushaar, one of the women cited in the original Politico report, told CNN on Tuesday night that Cain is a "serial denier." While declining to comment on Cain's Tuesday remarks, Kraushaar said she wants to meet with the other accusers about their cases.

Kraushaar and another woman, who remains unidentified, received payouts upon leaving the restaurant association after complaining about alleged sexual harassment by Cain.

Bennett said Tuesday that Kraushaar, who has worked in communications for the federal government since her departure from the association, complained of "multiple incidents over multiple days" in 1999 "that constituted sexual harassment."

In addition, Bennett challenged Cain's contention that he was unable to remember what Kraushaar had accused him of doing 12 years earlier. The restaurant association said at the time that it investigated the accusations and Cain denied them, Bennett noted.

Bialek held a news conference Monday to detail an alleged unwanted sexual advance by Cain shortly after she was laid off by the association in 1997. She said Cain reached up her dress and shoved her head toward his crotch.

Cain told her, "You want a job, right?" but stopped when she protested, Bialek said.

In a Tuesday interview with ABC News, Cain responded "yes" when asked whether Bialek was lying about the alleged incident.

Saying he didn't remember Bialek or the alleged incident, Cain added, "I have absolutely not acted inappropriately with this woman or anyone else in my entire life."

Cain said the only complaint he could recall regarding Kraushaar involved a comment he made that she was about the same height as his wife, as he held his hand up to his chin.

He said Kraushaar's complaints had been found to be baseless at the time, and the restaurant association negotiated a severance agreement with her rather than a legal settlement regarding any sexual harassment charges.

However, Kraushaar told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger that the height remark was not the basis for her complaint. And, Kraushaar told CNN, she received a $46,000 sexual harassment settlement, rather than a severance agreement.

Kraushaar also lodged a workplace complaint against her next employer-- the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In the CNN interview Tuesday night, she called it a "minor incident" in which she complained she was not allowed to telecommute while recovering from a car accident, something a colleague was doing.

Knowing her life story is now under a microscope, she admitted she might not have been a perfect employee but said she was a good and hard worker.

"They're looking under every rock trying to dig up dirt," Kraushaar said. "There really isn't much."

At his news conference Tuesday, Cain was introduced by Georgia attorney Lin Wood, who said the candidate is having to respond to hearsay, not admissible evidence, in the "court of public opinion."

"He comes before you today to defend his reputation," said Wood, who previously represented vindicated Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell and John and Patsy Ramsey, parents of child murder victim JonBenet Ramsey. "A reputation that he has built over 40 years of being a good and decent man and a successful business person. I ask you at least afford him fairness."

Bialek said earlier Tuesday that a reason she came forward with her account of Cain's alleged misbehavior 14 years after the fact was encouragement from her 13-year-old son.

"He said, 'Mom, I think you need to do the right thing. I think you need to tell on him,' " Bialek said on CNN's "American Morning." "That confirmed it for me. If my son is saying it, I want to be the role model for him and other kids growing up."

Bialek's story was the first public, detailed account of alleged misbehavior by Cain.

"I respected him. I looked up to him. And it just was shocking to me that he would use that power in such a way," Bialek said.

She didn't file a complaint at the time because she no longer worked for the association, said Bialek, who also denied wanting any money for going public, despite a bankruptcy stemming from costs related to her late mother's medical bills.


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